CAPSULE: This is the story of Barney Panofsky, directed by Richard J. Lewis based on a Michael Konyves's screen play based on the novel by Mordecai Richler. Barney is a self-indulgent, inconsiderate, alcoholic cad who somehow wins a wife who should have known better. Paul Giamatti gives a strong, multilayered performance of a selfish, but not uncommon man. Rosamunde Pike plays his long- suffering wife. There is an undeniable fascination with this man whose life we see from early twenties to his late 60s. The dialog is really good without being unrealistic. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In movies and in real life some people seem to be able to get by on a charm that does not seem visible. How often do we ask ourselves in a movie, "What does he see in her?" "What does she see in him?" Of course we also see people like that in the real world. Barney Panofsky (played with real authenticity by Paul Giamatti) seems like the last person a woman would want to be in the same room with much less be in a lasting relationship with. Yet three women wanted to marry Barney. Each marriage ended being a disaster, and it was mostly because of Barney's self-obsession. The viewer too seems to get an inexplicable fascination with this train-wreck of a person.
The story, told in flashback, is mostly about Barney's third marriage, though we see enough pieces of the first two marriages to make us detest Barney. This alone should make us loathe him, but it is not enough to break our fascination. Barney's first wife commits suicide in large part because of his treatment of her. His second wife (Minnie Driver) is wealthy and spoiled, but at the wedding Barney sees a lovely woman across the room and immediately begins courting her before the wedding reception is over. This is Miriam (played by the stunning Rosamunde Pike) who will be the love of his life, not that relationship does her much good. She sees something in Harvey impossible for the viewer to understand. She is there for the Barney who unfailingly lets her down.
BARNEY'S VERSION is a story about class as much as anything else. Barney cannot escape his roots. Dustin Hoffman plays his best role in a while as Barney's corrupted father Izzy Panofsky, a policeman. It is easy to see that Barney gets his boorish ways from Izzy who is a ball of vulgarity and lust for alcohol even at his son's wedding. His wedding gift for his son is the first gun he used in the police force and he hands it unwrapped to his son at the posh wedding to Barney's second wife. Barney is sort of a halfway point between the patrician people at the wedding and his out-of-control father. Perhaps the most touching acting comes later in a scene between Barney and his father with Barney in a state of both laughing and crying. Both are strong actors and each is sort of the counterpart of the other in a different generation. It might be interesting to see what Giamatti might do with a Ratso Rizzo sort of role.
Roger Ebert very correctly points out the makeup in BARNEY'S VERSION is terrific. Paul Giamatti has to be aged from a young man to his death. The makeup not only has to be believable, it has to tell us where we are in time because the film does jump around somewhat. We see Barney physically corrupting as his appearance catches up with his personality.
There is a flaw in the story, and it is about the only place where the writing feels like it could have been improved upon. There is a mystery that runs through the film. It is a puzzle both for the viewer and for Barney himself. Barney never sees the solution, but the audience does, and it feels unlikely and greatly contrived. With that exception, this is very well written and keenly observed material. BARNEY'S VERSION is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler who also wrote the in some ways similar THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ. I would rate BARNEY'S VERSION a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1423894/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/barneys-version/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper